Jason Hernandez
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Hernandez faces surprising new role as Quakes' backup

SAN JOSE, Calif. – So much for a big celebration on the occasion of Jason Hernandez’s 100th regular-season appearance as a member of the San Jose Earthquakes.

Hernandez had played in 99 league matches with the Quakes before last Saturday, all of them starts. Match No. 100 was a bit of a shock for the veteran – and the rest of the San Jose squad. The 28-year-old New Jersey native had to come off the bench at halftime of San Jose’s 1-0 win over Seattle Sounders FC after Ramiro Corrales suffered a sprained right ankle just before intermission.

It was Hernandez’s first game action of 2012. Following four seasons as a full-time starter for the Quakes, Hernandez strained his right calf in training camp this year. By the time he got healthy, left back Justin Morrow had moved inside to form a solid partnership with newcomer Víctor Bernárdez.

With San Jose’s defense playing so well thus far – only allowing one goal, off a penalty kick, in four games – there’s been no chance for Hernandez to regain his standing.

“I haven’t [come off the bench] in quite some time, so for me personally, it was kind of a challenge mentally,” Hernandez told MLSsoccer.com. “It was a very difficult situation, especially with the momentum shifting their way in the second half, with them really pushing to get an equalizer. It’s just a credit to my teammates just talking to me and making things easy on me. It was a very exciting 45 minutes, I guess.”

San Jose head coach Frank Yallop, who slid Morrow to left back when Corrales had to be replaced, could empathize with Hernandez’s situation.

“It’s really tough [to come in midway through a match],” Yallop said. “I’m a [former] defender, and you come into a game that that’s high octane, where guys are buzzing around, they’re flying at us, we’re doing well as well – you don’t want to let anyone down. I thought Jason did a great job, like I knew he would.”

Hernandez said it wasn’t tough being the “new guy,” even with more than 38,000 CenturyLink Field fans hoping that he would fail spectacularly.

“I came in and we were still able to keep things organized,” Hernandez said. “I think maybe a little bit of a benefit I have is I have a big mouth out there in terms of communicating. That’s something that doesn’t go by the wayside, whether I’m starting or coming on [mid-match]. It was extra-important in that game, when they were throwing a lot of numbers forward and trying to create a lot of chances.”

Hernandez might get another shot at playing time this weekend. Although Corrales practiced fully on Tuesday and said he “should be fine” to face the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday at Buck Shaw Stadium (7 pm ET, watch on MLS LIVE), Bernárdez left midway through that same training session to have his sore back examined. Yallop said the team will gauge how the big Hondruan looks in training on Thursday before making any lineup decisions.

Hernandez understands the situation, even if it’s difficult not to be a part of the action.

“The defense has been playing great,” Hernandez said. “No one man’s bigger than the team, and the team’s success is No. 1, so as long as the defense is solid, I’ll be on the outside looking in at this point.”

Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at sanjosequakes@gmail.com.

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